A new trend occurring in domestic abuse cases, with smart home technology at the centre
Smart home technology is designed to increase comfort, security and control for those who use it, but this is not always the case.
Smart home technology allows users to control features of their home remotely through an app connected to the Internet. While this technology can be used to provide homeowners with comfort and ease, it has also sparked a new phenomenon centred around using tech as a tool for domestic abuse and stalking.
In recent years there have been an alarming number of stories from domestic abuse survivors that revolve around their abuser using the technology installed in their homes as a means of manipulation, harassment or psychological violence. With the ability to remotely control locks, music, doorbells, air conditioning and other basic household features, abusers have been able to take tools of security from their partner and twist them into means of control.
These cases range from stalking through video and audio surveillance or changing passwords on household controls to more niche, psychological forms of intimidation: ringing the doorbell when no one is there, playing music that can’t be turned off, adjusting the temperature to extremes and more.
The abuse of smart home technology is a relatively new division of the growing problem of cybermisogyny and tech-related abuse; problems that are currently considered legally difficult to define and manage. Because the abuse can be subtle, survivors are often ignored or don’t even realize what is happening.
The discourse surrounding this phenomenon is deeply connected to debate around the progression of technology, begging questions such as “Has tech gone too far?” and “Does it do more harm than good?” Abuse is all about control. The abuser wants to feel like they have power over their partner and they’ll use whatever they can to achieve this. Recently, technology has been an easily accessible method to make this happen. Homes are meant to be a safe and personal space, with connected home technology intended to make it even safer.
It is important to note how this “Technology has gone too far” narrative can distract from the real cause of these situations – the abuser. Smart home technology can and often does exist without harassment, and it is merely one tool that can be used by an abuser. This narrative does, however, draw attention to the subtle nature of abuse and the emerging ways in which technology allows for psychological abuse. Marketing smart home technologies which provide more efficient protection and individualized, autonomous use seems to ignore the systemic and often gendered imbalance of power that is not being treated. Selling technologies to address this is merely a band-aid fix, and one that has ultimately made the problem even worse.